This is an issue that's really been bothering me. I live in Los Angeles. Sometimes I enjoy running errands on my bike rather than taking the car; it keeps me in better shape, and saves a little gas. But there's a problem; this is not the safest city for locking up a bike. Many stores have pan-handlers, bums, crack-addicts, and unlicensed day-labor workers sitting outside with lots of time on their hands, and not much change in their pockets. I'm not going to say all these people are dishonest, but it's safe to say a few of them are desperate or uninhibited enough to do just about anything.
I try to avoid the issue of locking up by walking my bike carefully and calmly into a business with the hope that they won't mind. Some places are positively welcoming to me. Other places seem to pay no attention to me, which is also fine. But occasionally I'll come across a place where some eager security guard or front-counter attendant invents an unwritten policy against someone walking their bike into the store. "Sir, you can't have that in here."
Recently I was in a hardware store. I talked to half a dozen workers there, asking questions, shopping. Everyone was friendly and helpful. When I finally went to the front counter to pay, the girl told me I couldn't have the bike in there, and that I had to take it outside.
On another occasion I was in a large grocery store. I've walked the bike through this place four or five times before. This time a security guard told me I had to leave the bike outside. Not wanting to cause trouble, I just left. There were too many street people sitting outside for me to feel good about locking up.
In each of these cases, there was either no rack on premises, or the rack was in an area where nobody inside the store could see it; no security, no cameras, and not near enough the entrance of the store for shoppers to be passing by as they come and go.
Even if I were to lock up with a U-lock, someone could still steal my seat and post, my pedals, cycle computer, wedge pack (co2, tools, etc.). I imagine a dérailleur could even be pawnable for enough money to buy a hit of crack.
As I wander around stores, I notice people pushing strollers, shopping carts, personal hand-truck style shopping baskets, riding Little Rascals, and of course wheelchairs. Is a well-maintained and clean bike really any more of a threat to the store's ability to transact business peacefully than any of these other devices?
How do we go about improving business' tolerance for bikers?